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New York Court Dismisses Cable Splicer’s Labor Law Claims

Personal Injury

The New York Labor Law requires owners and contractors to provide a safe construction site and imposes liability on them if they fail to meet certain safety requirements. Although they are generally considered to apply to construction sites, the applicability of the statutes is based on the work being performed and may be somewhat broader than what one would generally imagine as a construction site. Thus, New York construction injury attorneys know that there may sometimes be a question as to whether these laws apply, as seen in a recent case.

The plaintiff was working as a “cable splicer” for a telephone company at the time of his accident. According to the plaintiff, a tenant in the defendant’s building requested service on some telephone lines that were not working. The plaintiff alleged he had to access the wires through a “splice box,” which was on a wall in the stairway. The plaintiff alleged he was on a ladder working on the splice box when he fell. He filed suit against the building owner for violations of Labor Law § 240(1), § 241(6), and § 200, and common law negligence.

The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing the Labor Law was not applicable because the plaintiff was not engaged in any of the enumerated activities that would trigger those claims. The defendant argued the plaintiff was simply performing routine maintenance and only replaced component parts that had been damaged through normal wear and tear. He was not altering a structure at the time of his accident. The defendant further argued it did not have notice of his presence on the property. According to the defendant, utility workers were required to sign in at the front desk, but there was no record of that happening. The defendant also argued that Section 200 did not apply because the defendant did not control the plaintiff’s work. Additionally, the defendant argued the plaintiff was in control of his own work, and the alleged unsafe condition was therefore solely in his control.

The plaintiff alleged that he did “alter” the structure by cutting and prying open the permanently sealed cover of the splice box. He further argued that he was engaged in an enumerated activity when he stripped, cut, and spliced the wires. He alleged that he had checked in with the front desk, so the defendant was aware of his presence. He argued the defendant failed to provide proper protection for the elevation-related risks he faced while doing the work.

The court first considered the § 240 claim. To prove a § 240(1) claim, the plaintiff must show that the defendant violated the statute by failing to provide adequate safety devices and that this violation was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. The worker must also show that the injuries occurred while he was engaged in the “erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure.” Under New York case law, work is considered “altering” only if it “requires making a significant physical change to the configuration or composition of the building or structure.” Whether § 240(1) is applicable is determined on a case-by-case basis, based on the context of the work performed.

The court found the defendant made a prima facie case that the splicing of the wires was not included in the activities listed in the statute. Previous case law has found that splicing a fiber-optic cable was not an alteration under the statute.

The court found that the plaintiff’s activities did not constitute a significant physical change. Although the plaintiff testified that he had to use a chipping knife and hammer to open the sealed splice box, the court found this to be just a slight change to the building’s attributes. The court found the plaintiff had not raised a triable issue of fact as to the § 240(1) claim.

Under § 200, owners and contractors are required to provide construction workers with a safe place to work. There may be a liability when a worker is injured as a result of the manner in which the work was performed or as a result of a dangerous condition on the worksite. However, if the dangerous condition arises from the manner of the work, and the owner does not have supervisory control, the owner will not be liable.

The court found the defendant made a prima facie case that it did not control the plaintiff’s work. The defendant did not provide the equipment or give him direction. The court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment as to this claim.

The court also granted summary judgment as to the § 241(6) claim. This claim requires the plaintiff to show he was “engaged in the inherently hazardous work of construction, excavation, or demolition.” The court found no evidence the plaintiff was engaged in any of these activities and therefore granted summary judgment.

Although the court found this plaintiff could not go forward with his claims under the New York Labor Law, the applicability of those statutes is based on the work being performed. A slightly different set of circumstances may have a different outcome. If you have been injured while doing work on someone else’s property, you need an experienced New York construction accident attorney on your side. Call the Law Offices of Marc S. Albert at 1.855.252.3788 to discuss your case.

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Image: / Erik Araujo